County to widen Veterans Bridge

BROWNSVILLE — Cameron County is wrapping up the design phase of a lane expansion for Veterans International Bridge that will integrate powerful X-ray imaging machines, which officials say will cut commercial vehicle wait times by half.

County Bridge Systems Executive Director Josue Garcia Jr. said Customs and Border Protection is expected to approve plans for four additional lanes by midweek.

When construction is completed in June, he said CBP will provide two new VACIS cargo inspection systems. The hardware uses low-dose X-ray to scan vehicles, according to the manufacturer’s website.

CBP spokesman Elias Rodriguez said the installation “will dramatically improve the efficiency and effectiveness of process and throughput of commercial traffic.”

The location was selected because of the forthcoming lane expansion, he said, and will determine the technology’s “viable use within the CBP process.”

Garcia said the scanning machinery will be able to detect hidden compartments, people and drugs while commercial trucks drive at normal speed. Having higher quality images will reduce the number of trucks that have to be unloaded and inspected, he said, and will cut wait times by 45 percent to 50 percent.

Garcia said the new VACIS technology already is in use on the northern border, and Veterans International Bridge will become the model for bridges on the southern border.

“ The bottom line is this will reduce the wait times significantly when these people go back,” he said. “That’s when the county makes its money on the southbound traffic.”

Cameron County charges a $20.50 toll for each five-axle trailer, he said, and shorter wait times will attract commercial traffic to the area.

Commissioners approved the use of international bridge bond funds for the lane expansion, which will cost about $491,000.